Retail dvd (optimum home entertainment, widescreen)

Bus 174

This Brazilian documentary is based on live TV broadcasts from 12 June 2000, when a one gunman hijacked a commuter bus, enacting his own version of Dog Day Afternoon. Around this tense stand-off, director JoséPadhila interviews victims, eye-witnesses, media and police, probing the hijacker's motives, police vendettas against Brazil's homeless population, and a terminally unjust society.


It was inevitable that Oliver Stone's trip to Havana to shoot 30 hours of interview with Fidel Castro would unleash a storm of controversy. Hawkish US commentators couldn't miss a chance to condemn Stone, and HBO, having bought the film, then decided not to show it. There's no doubt the director, who shares centre stage with Fidel himself, looks a little too pleased with himself for landing this coup, and as he develops a chummy camaraderie with his host, issues like Castro's human rights record and his laughable claim that Cuba is in some way democratic go without scrutiny.

Blind Shaft

In present-day China, two drifters run a murderous scam, luring unsuspecting marks into working alongside them down the coal mines. There they kill their prey, fake a cave-in, then collect hush-money from mine-owners terrified about being shut down. Shot guerrilla-style in China's bleakest provinces—and promptly banned by the country's authorities—former documentarist Li Yang's feature debut is a spare, stunning slice of naturalist noir.

The Last Emperor: Special Edition

Bertolucci's epic tracing the life of Pu Yi, who became China's last Godlike emperor aged three and then, deposed by revolution, had to learn to live as a gardener. Contrasting the splendour of the Forbidden City with the greyness of Communism, it almost gets lost in surfaces, but Peter O'Toole excels as Pu Yi's tutor

The Agronomist

A labour of love for Jonathan Demme who spent seven years following Haitian human rights activist and broadcaster Jean Dominique. An agronomist by background on an island run by bandits, Dominique's struggle to bring justice to his homeland ended in a hail of bullets outside Radio Haiti in 2000. For all Demme's efforts, you never feel the film quite cracks its subject, but it does throw a grim spotlight on Haiti's interminable agonies.

Roger Dodger

One of the most gratifying indie dark horses of last year, with writer/director Dylan Kidd giving Campbell Scott the role of a lifetime. As ageing Lothario Roger, getting bitter as he realises his sleazy charms are fading, Scott is dynamic, demanding no sympathy as he educates and corrupts his eager-to-learn-the-ropes nephew. Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley turn their noses up. Honest to a fault.

American Splendor

Paul Giamatti, a character actor who's embodied a host of losers and creeps, always merited a lead role, and was surely born to play Harvey Pekar, the grumpy but ultimately likeable (not lovable) hospital clerk who finds a means of expression through his comic books/graphic novels. Inspired by friend Robert Crumb (and this is a superior film to the 1994 documentary Crumb), our obsessive-compulsive antihero depicts and ponders the mundane and everyday through his work, and the world and his wife relate.

Man Of The Year

Like the preppy cousin of City Of God, this handsome crime flick from JoséHenrique Fonseca is set in Rio De Janeiro, but in the suburbs, where good-looking gringos kill out of curiosity rather than necessity. Unfortunately, it's also a world of paper-thin characters prone to morbid musings, and shot through with a non-descript pop-promo aesthetic.

Aileen: Life And Death Of A Serial Killer

Everyone's favourite investigative smoothie Nick Broomfield updates his 1991 doc Selling Of A Serial Killer by re-cataloguing the tragic, shambolic life of Aileen Wuornos (from homeless woodswoman to vagrant prostitute to multiple murderer) and finally interviewing a clearly demented Wuornos only hours before her execution. More sombre than the usual Broomfield outings, but effective all the same.

Editor's Picks